Matt Scrafton column: Blackpool's pivotal point in their campaign?
I’m firmly of the belief that Blackpool’s miserable defeat to AFC Wimbledon back in October proved to be a major turning point in their season.
The mood among the fanbase was a dejected one, as they witnessed their side slump to a sixth defeat in just nine league games at the start of the campaign.
At the time, it was just the latest example of things conspiring against Neil Critchley’s side. Everything seemed to be going wrong, irrespective of what they did.
Despite ending the game with nine men, following red cards for Ethan Robson and Dan Ballard, Blackpool ought to have claimed a point.
It was an extraordinary ending to the encounter, where the Seasiders, two men down, had the Dons pinned back on the edge of their own half as they launched swathe after swathe of attacks.
Had CJ Hamilton scored with one of his breaks on the counter, Blackpool would have picked up a deserved point.
As was so often the case at the beginning of the season, the men in tangerine were unable to convert their chances.
When the chips were down, Blackpool fought, they rallied and they rolled up their sleeves. They weren’t ready to accept their fate.
Since that night at Loftus Road, where Wimbledon were temporarily playing home games ahead of their move to Plough Lane, the Seasiders haven’t looked back, suffering four defeats in their subsequent 19 games.
Wimbledon, who now boast former Pool loanee Ben Heneghan among their ranks, currently find themselves sat in the bottom four.
Should the Seasiders avenge their earlier defeat when the two sides meet at Bloomfield Road tomorrow, that will make the midweek draw against Crewe Alexandra a good one.
There was a strange mixture of feelings that greeted the final whistle on Tuesday night.
It’s never nice to concede late on, Stephen Walker’s equaliser coming just four minutes from time, so it certainly felt like two points dropped at the time.
If we’re looking at the bigger picture, Crewe were very impressive and were one of the better sides Blackpool have faced this season.
You couldn’t really begrudge them their point, even if it did come at the death.
Had Blackpool held on, a fourth straight victory would have been crucial in their bid to cut the gap to the League One play-offs.
With games in hand still to play, it’s imperative between now and the end of the season that the Seasiders are able to keep their points tally ticking over and grind out results, even if it’s a draw, when they aren’t performing to their maximum.
Given the hectic schedule, which sees Pool play Saturday-Tuesday-Saturday for the foreseeable future, it’s inevitable they won’t be able to hit the heights of their dazzling Charlton Athletic display every game.
The true mark of a successful side is the ability to stay in games, remain solid and avoid conceding even when they’re under pressure.
That’s an art Blackpool have mastered in recent weeks, given Crewe’s late leveller was the first they had conceded in almost six hours.
It’s that defensive stability which has been the hallmark of Blackpool’s recent form and will prove crucial if it’s to continue between now and May 8.
If Blackpool are going to launch a genuine challenge for the play-offs, their excellent home form will also have to continue.
The Crewe draw was Blackpool’s 10th unbeaten game on home turf in all competitions, a record that stretches back to mid-October.
With 11 of their remaining 18 games coming at Bloomfield Road, that gives Critchley’s side a real chance of hauling themselves into the mix.
The main positive from Tuesday night was the return of Hamilton, who came on as a sub just before the hour.
It was the winger’s first glimpse of competitive action since December 19, having been sidelined with a serious hamstring injury since then.
With James Husband and Gary Madine not far away from returning, and with Daniel Gretarsson stepping up his recovery from injury, that will leave Blackpool with virtually a fully-fit squad for the final run-in, barring any further setbacks of course.
Marvin Ekpiteta and Keshi Anderson remain longer-term concerns, but the Seasiders have already demonstrated this season they’re more than capable of dealing with absences thanks to their squad depth.
It’s now down to Critchley to manage his squad, rotate and make the odd change here and there to keep his side fresh.
That’s easier said than done, of course, when you’re enjoying a rich vein of form.
Players including Ollie Turton, Kenny Dougall and Hamilton will be itching to get back into the side on a more permanent basis, which can only be a good thing.
Hamilton will have to be treated with kid gloves a little at first, given the nature of his injury and the length of time he was sidelined.
With central midfielders Matty Virtue and Grant Ward having to fill in on the right flank in recent weeks, Pool will certainly be better off with Hamilton back in the reckoning and claiming his position back in the side.
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